Top Ten: Dealing with Dragons

Title: Dealing with Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Nutshell: Cimorene lives in a very classic kingdom. She and her sisters drink tea, wear lovely dresses, and learn ladylike arts and etiquette — how loudly it is appropriate to scream when being carried off by an ogre, for example, as opposed to a giant. Their father knows that eventually they will all be rescued from monsters or curses by gallant knights and be happily married. Well, perhaps not Cimorene.

Cimorene would rather scream battlecries. Cimorene would rather ply a sword than a needle. Cimorene would rather wear armor. Tea is alright, though. Her parents are nearly despairing of her ever being rescued properly. They try to explain to their daughter how things are. Princesses simply must be captured, by giants or sea monsters or dragons.

So, Cimorene packs a bag and visits the dragons. Once she has convinced one to let her stay in exchange for cooking for parties and organizing the back storage caves, she settles in happily. Knights come by every week or so, which is a nuisance, but she sends them down the cliff to try rescuing the next princess over. Dragons do take a lot of feeding, especially at parties, but Cimorene does have a Cauldron of Plenty to help her with the task. And she’s alphabetized half the magical ingredients.

If only someone would do something about the wizards that seem to be hatching a villainous plot.

The job falls to Cimorene, so, armed with a bucket of washwater and a thriving common sense, she takes on the Wizards, with the help of some quirky dragons, a properly kidnapped princess, a witch with far too many cats, and one prince, as long as he is well-behaved and doesn’t try much rescuing.

Read-alikes: E.D. Baker’s Frog Princess Series, Once Upon a Marigold, Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

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Top Ten: Spindle’s End

Title: Spindle’s End

Author: Robin McKinley

Nutshell: Katriona, a young woman training in the ways of the wise woman, visits the capital city in order to attend the new and greatly lauded princess’s name day. While she sits in the audience, twenty fairies give the princess name-day gifts, each more shallow than the last. Golden hair, a tinkling laugh, the gift of embroidering… You may have guessed what happens next. Tragedy. A spurned, wicked-hearted fairy. A curse.

Katriona is the first to move after the smoke clears. Snatching up the wailing infant, she gives her a gift, almost by accident, blessing her with the ability to speak to animals. Then, because the palace is an obvious location, and the danger is still great, the queen sends the baby with Katriona, to her small village far from the capital, to be as safe as any other ordinary person.

So the princess grows, surrounded by her people, raised by Kat. But by the time she reaches the edge of her destiny, she has her own life. Friends. Loves. Her twenty-first birthday is approaching, the end of all she knows. And her curse isn’t going to be broken by a simple prick and a kiss.

Read-alikes: Cameron Dokey’s rewritten fairy tales are just right for someone looking for tales like McKinley’s. Also Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball and sequels; Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl; Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted and sequels. If looking for something similar in theme and feel but less traditional and more grown up, try Patricia Mckillip’s Winter Rose.

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Top Ten: The Princess and the Goblin

Title: The Princess and the Goblin

Author: George MacDonald

Nutshell: Irene is a princess in a long-ago kingdom. Her doting father keeps her in a fine house in the mountains, while she is too young to be at court. She has every good thing and is well cared for.

And there is a magical room at the top of her staircase.

Inside the room is her many-times-great-grandmother, who spins spiderweb and sees pictures in the firelight and keeps pigeons. She is Wise, in the tradition of the old, great Wise women, tending to the patch of world around her with gentle urging here, a warning word there. She gives Irene a gift: a magical ring that always leads her home.

Also in the mountains around the princess’s house is a mine, and so there are miners. Curdie is one young miner with a quick mind. And beyond the mines, and below them, in the depths of the mountain, there are goblins, cowardly but wicked. They are hatching vicious plots in their dark caverns. Before the end of it, Curdie and Irene will both need rescuing.

Read-alikes: I’m having trouble with this. George MacDonald stories are not like other stories. They are very like fairytales in construction, but there is an element of reality to them that most fairytales lack. The Narnia books are like them, of course. I also have an old book called Ernest and the Golden Thread, which may or may not be available, but is rather like.Read More »

Top Ten: The Name of the Wind

Title: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Nutshell: Kote is just a quiet innkeeper. That’s all. His apprentice is just a young man from the village. That’s all. The village is a quiet, ordinary village where nothing happens. Ever.

The village is not being attacked by mysterious spidery creatures that the priest calls demons and Kote calls something else. The apprentice does not have goat’s legs and eyes with no whites. The innkeeper is not the famous Kvothe, called Kingslayer and a hundred other things in a hundred and more tales. He does not have a cloak of no particular color, or a thrice-locked chest of unburning wood.

He does not know the name of the wind.

Of course not.

But he will tell you a story.

Read-alikes: This is both very like almost all epic fantasy, and very unlike.

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Top Ten: The Last Unicorn

Title: The Last Unicorn

Author: Peter S. Beagle

Nutshell: The unicorn did not take much notice of time. The forest around her remained unchanging because of her magic. She did not take much notice of the people that walked through it. Until the day that one, speaking to another, said that hers was the last forest blessed with a unicorn. She thought surely it could not be.

The unicorn left her forest, walked out of timeless starlit glades and into the dusty, tepid world, and found it was true. The unicorns had been gone for so long that people no longer saw her for what she was. They saw a particularly fine pony, not a unicorn at all.

The unicorn heard of a place where the unicorns had been taken. A miserable wasteland of a kindgom, ruled by Haggard, who controlled the Red Bull. She went in search of her lost kin. The tragic magician Schmendrick joined her, and then [Marion], who had lost her youth on a tale. They sought the unicorn’s kin together, but instead they began to lose the unicorn.

Read-Alikes: Patricia McKillip comes the closest. I think that the Princess and the Goblin has a passing similarity, just because of how deeply rooted both books are in the fairy tale tradition, and how rich they are with symbolism.Read More »